Rhys, Jack, Alex, Fiona, Chris McDonnell, Tanguy, William, Dave KP, Rosanna Nichols, Katy Morgan, Tetley, DW
There weren’t many of us in the van on the way up, and we packed everything very quickly, leaving us worried that we’d left something behind. We went up the M1, stopping at Northampton to buy all the food for the week and then at Loughborough to pick up Alex, our second driver, who had Melton Mowbray pork pies for the group. We skipped round Leeds and Bradford to grab Fiona, and then finally on to the NPC, where we arrived not too late for a few drinks and brie laden crumpets. Perfect.
We met early, Jack ,Rhys, Rosanna and I. We packed, ate a good and cheap pizza and we were off to the Dales. We bought food for an obscenely low amount of money (we would later need to top up) and raced across the ‘British countryside’. I had yet to learn how to phrase my descriptions of bleak roundabouts and A roads… Anyway, the journey was smooth, we picked up Alex, pushed the van to prevent Rhys from ice-skating with a Union vehicle and off we were to our next stop, picking up Fiona. In time, we saw the warm yellow lights of the NPC inviting us for a rest. Instead, we headed outside to star gaze, and head-torches turned off, we strolled along the snaky moonlit road. Cheap beer quickly made its way to my head after the long drive up, and my thoughts were like feathers, brushed by a light wind. A timid star shot past, tracing a white trail in the starry vault.
Easegill: Rhys, Jack, Alex, Fiona, Chris, Tanguy, Rosanna
An epic start to the tour was made by celebrating the New Year with a 10.5 hour trip into the Easegill system. Avoiding using SRT for the trip, we used Wretched Rabbit – a series of short pitches using handlines - as both our entrance and exit. From there we wandered the system, taking in the pretties of the main chamber, the Minarets, Diamond Hall, the streamway and Easter Grotto, all of which were spectacular. Frequent stops were taken to consume soup and sandwiches and the New Year was celebrated early with tea lights, mulled wine and the Lion King soundtrack by the main chamber. Then we slowly made our way back to the surface. By the time we got to the bottom of Wretched Rabbit I was pretty exhausted so the prospect of climbing up those handlines was fairly daunting. In the end I needed to be helped up the pitches with one of them requiring climbing on Jack and Tanguy and being pulled up by Alex. This can’t have been comfortable for all involved – at the time I thought the worst of this was falling back onto Tanguy’s shoulder after being pushed off it and getting stuck for some time in that position but I was later informed that I’d also given Jack a nice kick in the face so no-one had emerged unscathed. During this exit midnight passed so 2015 was kicked off with a good mixture of celebrations, grunting and swearing.
The next day, we started slowly, waiting for Chris to arrive on the 1132 at Clapham. It was New Years’ Eve, and our original plan of going for an epic all night caving trip looked significantly less appealing in the cold light of day. We compromised, and decided to head underground around 2pm, and stay in the cave just past midnight. To keep our spirits high and our bodies nourished, we packed a load of ready made sandwiches and a stove with soup and wine to mull, and headed to Easegill.
To avoid any SRT we decided to go in and out Wretched Rabbit. I’d forgotten that the handlines are a little difficult, and so getting down took a little while. Down along the winding streamway we met the infamous Phallactite, and the more superstitious of us stopped to catch a drop of water from it’s tip, sure to bring good luck in the New Year. Rhys identified a tedious little side crawl to nowhere and lured some of us down it, but there were some nice coloured rocks at the end. We wanted to avoid the main streamway, as being wet for another ten hours would be tedious, so Rhys showed us the high level bypass that avoid Four Ways chamber and drops instead into Stock Pot. Here we stopped for our first soup break, with my little Optimus stove pumped, primed and making a good impression of a jet engine and boiling the water at an admirable speed. Too many D of E trips have given me a lifelong hatred of the Trangia, so the Optimus was a nice change.
Souped, sandwiched and well photographed, we headed onwards to reach the Minarets, up the ladder with the tight crawl at the top and into some lovely passage. We paused for a while as Rhys tried to imitate a photo from the cover of Northern Caves 3, Tanguy silhouetted in the distinctive onion shape of the Minarets cross section. We thought it’d be good to pop down and see the main stream way, and Tanguy ably and uncannily lead us right there, where we found fossils and minor relief for some of the party. On the way back to the Minarets I got disoriented in a large chamber, but Chris found the way on and we made soup to celebrate. Chris had been cunningly carrying the bag of comf in the form of two terrible roll mats, and these were very nice for keeping warm as the water boiled.
On the way out, we decided to check out Easter Grotto to kill some time. A bit of dodgy route finding lead me up a rather nasty free climb. I cleverly located a nicer free climb, handily marked by a scratched X in the wall. I encouraged everyone up it before realising the X meant ‘No’ - the ‘correct’ route was marked with a tick, a few metres further along! Still, good practice for everyone, and the straws in the ceiling of Easter Grotto were greatly appreciated.
Back in Stock Pot, we made camp in a high level passage out of the wind, and cooked up some mulled wine - I’d brought cinnamon sticks, cheap wine, sugar and cloves, as well as half a nutmeg, and the result was really something. We lit twenty tea lights around us and extinguished our torches as Rhys played the Lion King soundtrack over his Pringles speakers and we all sang along. What a wonderful way to spend NYE! The way out was a bit tough, some of the climbs up Wretched Rabbit proving hard after ten hours underground, but good teamwork (shout out to Chris, whose strong shoulders stoically served as steps) and encouragement got us out around half midnight. It was blowing a gale on the fell with thick mist, and the party was in full swing at Bull pot. Back at the NPC, all was quiet, and we all went to bed pretty quickly.
When I arrived into the NPC around midday, some people were understandably eager to get caving at the beginning of the tour, but with our plan to spend the new year underground looming, we were careful to not go caving too early. We elected to pop to the co-op to delay our arrival at Bull Pot farm, which began the long walk to the cave. I diligently volunteered to carry the tackle sack full of roll mats, which acted as a very gentle introduction to carrying tackle sacks through caves.
We headed down some tricky descents with some much appreciated handlines rigged off a scaff bar. Then a fairly pleasant, if tight, walk through a streamway eventually led to Stock Pot, where we had the first of many stops and dined on sandwiches and soup. After we were sufficiently refreshed, we headed up a handy ladder through Monster Cavern towards the Minarets, an spectacular set of three parallel chambers. Upon arriving just after Tanguy he gracefully allowed me to go first in order for me to truly feel the joy of discovering that the only way is through the small squeeze.
We elected to take the short trip from the Minarets to the streamway, which we used to top up the water bottles for more soup, and for a few short minutes, my tackle sack contained some actual weight. Fortunately we stopped in the third minaret for soup, and people were thirsty, so I managed to be carrying only two empty bottles after our second nourishment stop.
The time was going quickly, but it felt quite a burden to know that we had a set amount of time to stay underground. In lieu of needing to kill some time, we headed to Easter Grotto, which had a very impressive collection of ceiling straws. There was some confusion making it up after Jack led people to a free climb marked with a large X. After making it up second and agreeing that it was not the easiest climb, we still both thought that it must be a X marks the spot message. After the majority of us had struggled up, someone discovered the easy climb marked with a large tick. Well, we don’t go caving to have an easy time.
Upon returning to Stop Pot, we had our final stove stop, but this time mulled wine was the beverage of choice. To truly get the celebratory mood going we lit a large number of tea lights and sang along to some choice Lion King songs.
Feeling not at all tipsy, and with midnight approaching, we headed towards the exit. Midnight occurred while tackling the tricky climbs, made a lot worse after ten hours of caving. At the stroke of the new year, Rhys played Celebrate Good Times through his speakers and danced at the top of one of the climbs while people below struggled their way up.
Eventually making it out at around half twelve, we were greeted by fog and rain, luckily the top tip of navigating back was to follow the stony bog.
Having planned to mix the bimbliness and epicness in our Easegill trip, we slowly got up. By three in the afternoon, after all the offerings to the cave gods were completed, we entered via Wretched Rabbit. At a leisurely pace we arrived in Stop Pot, and stopped for a soup and some sandwiches. Stomachs full, we started on the ladder, and snaked our way through the boulders of Monster and Snail Cavern.
Soon enough we reached the Minarets, stopped to have a drink, and some photos, then had a peek at the streamway not too far ahead to refill the water bottles. We halted again at the Minarets to have more soup, and sandwiches, at which point I started feeling drowsy, and had a short nap. Not two minutes after I had drifted away into blissful rest we were on the move again, to regain Stop Pot. We reached it an hour later, lit some small tea lights and Jack mulled some wine for us. With our electric lights off, the atmosphere was strangely eerie., but absolutely convivial.
A few sips did the trick, the tea lights were snuffed and we started our exit, through the SRT free Wretched Rabbit. The twelve strokes of Midnight resounded in the last climb, but at least all of us were underground to see the coming of the new Year. This otherwise short trip, artificially made long by the laidback bimbling proved enough to bring exhaustion even on the most valiant of us, and the sight of the minibus after a long trudge on the muddy, windy, drizzly fell was a relief.
Mental Simpsons Attempt: Rhys, Jack, Alex, Chris, Tanguy, Rosanna
I woke up aching all over from the Easegill trip but really wanted to go caving so it was only after struggling with the stairs at the NPC, needing to be helped into gear and getting half way up the hill to Simpsons in the grimmest weather Yorkshire could throw at us that I decided it would be a really terrible idea. I headed back to the bus while Rhys, Jack, Alex and Chris soldiered on. I prepared for a long wait in the bus, only to see the bedraggled cavers return after about an hour. Apparently the cave was badly flooded and as such they had come to the same conclusion about it being a terrible idea. I then felt much better about missing the trip.
The next day brought terrible weather. Through what I can only assume was a terrible misunderstanding, we were advised to go Simpsons. The fast flowing entrance streamway, with its lovely refreshing crawls soon woke me up, but it was only at the head of the Five Steps I realised something might be amiss. I’d been planning to let Chris rig for the first time, but looking at the torrent I grabbed the bag and plunged in myself.
It was just like canyoning, raging water knee to waist high, grabbing the tackle sack and adding a good extra ten kilos to the harness. The rigging is meant to be a handline/traverse line, but I rigged it for SRT given the strong water flow. The second bolt wobbled alarmingly, so I retreated to ask advice from Rhys. He was unimpressed, and we rigged from a natural above the bolt with a sling. I kept rigging down five bolts, each one progressively more flooded, and until at the last bolt I realised I was out of rope for the final drop. I shouted to Rhys to join me, and we sat above the torrent shouting our conversation.
We quickly realised we were out of our depth - the water was too fast, and we didn’t really know what we were doing or how the cave would respond. We beat a retreat, with me derigging in the full force of the water. At least with canyoning you rarely ascend the rope! On the way out, the water in the entrance crawl was a good six inches deeper, and this in only half an hour - probably for the best we left then! Walking down the hill we could see that Kingsdale beck had burst its banks, flooding the valley on either side and washing over the now-wet stone walls. It was truly apocalyptic. We changed hurriedly in the freezing wind and bailed back to the NPC for burritos and hugely exaggerated tales of derring-do.
The new year of caving brought with it lots of rain, and general exhaustion from the previous day’s long trip, so naturally we headed to a more challenging cave to test our SRT skills and for Alex, Rosanna and me to learn some rigging.
The conditions for changing into our gear were pretty abysmal, and the uphill climb to the cave made it quite obvious that we hadn’t had an evening meal last night. During the approach, Rosanna wisely decided to turn back. The bright side, however, of the weather meant we were already soaked by the time we got to the cave, and the long wet crawl was a welcome change, being warmer and less wet than outside.
Getting to the first pitch, Jack realised that one of the bolts was loose, and that it was actually quite wet, so held fire on the ‘teach freshers to rig’ plan, and rigged with Rhys following closely behind. After I had made it down the first “pitch”, Jack and Rhys had discovered the water levels ahead and called off the trip, and we headed back out. This decision was proved sensible further by the risen level of water on the crawl out, and, upon reaching the surface, discovering that the nearby beck had burst it’s banks all over the valley.
All in all it provided a nice counter trip to our Easegill expedition, being short and wet. But fairly useful as a training trip, as I got to use all of my SRT kit once and carried a tackle sack full of rope.
Today, whatever you may have heard, o blissfully unaware reader, we did not deliberately choose to visit a wet cave we were told would get flooded and unpleasant by rainfall. We did not walk up in hurling rain, and howling wind to find the cave entrance. We did not turn back at the first pitch because of high water levels, and did not endure rising, cold waters on the crawl (swim) out. This was all a dream… The food however was delectable.
Jingling: Fiona, Dave KP, Rosanna Nichols, Tetley
Gaping Ghyll Flood Entrance: Rhys, Jack, Alex, Chris, Tanguy, William
The lazy/tired contingent of the trip thought that the long walk to Gaping Ghyll sounded like far too much like hard work so set off to Jingling instead. Partly this was intended to be a nice introduction to caving for Katy, who was due to arrive that day, but when she was delayed the trip went ahead as Fiona, DKP and I had never been to the cave before. Both the semi-direct and the longer routes were rigged. This being only my second SRT trip, I followed Tetley down the longer route, carefully following his advice to not copy what he was doing. After the slightly daunting short traverse overlooking the 60m open shaft, the series of short pitches went smoothly and we met the rest of the group at the bottom of the cave before Fiona rigged the somewhat less impressive final pitch. I opted to exit using the semi-direct route to make use of the long rope climb to hone my ascending skills which, although DW had to help me with the rebelay, went quite well. Overall, it was a nice, short trip and caving proved its own antidote as it served to cure, rather than worsen, the aches and pains I had developed so far. Gaping Ghyll sounded spectacular so I will be sure to not to miss that trip again if the chance arises.
On Friday 2nd, we had a permit for Gaping Ghyll. Lacking the cavers for an exchange, we made it a rigging training trip, down Flood pot by Wade’s entrance. I’d been waiting to do Gaping Ghyll for over a year, and Tanguy was equally eager. It was a beautiful day for the walk up - clear, sunny, but cold enough to prevent too much sweating. Chris rigged the first tight drop followed by a rebelay to a long hang very admirably, and we all followed him down to the drippy passage that followed. Alex took the lead, and after a bit of route finding and exploratory crawls we got to a nice pitch head with am open y-hang, which I advised him on how to rig. He did very well, and was soon off down the cave again. We met another group coming out of Flood who were quite friendly, and we rigged the pitch off of some interesting naturals down through a waterfall to a winding narrow passage.
At this point, I took over the rigging for the big pitch. I took longer than I’d hoped to, with lots of advice on my y-hang, and then getting a little scared at the hanging rebelay. I got back into the swing of things for the two crazy deviations, wildly kicking off the walls to create a spider’s web of rope criss-crossing the shaft. The final deviation hangs you perfectly so that you descend to a ledge off to the side of the shaft, and I landed there and waited for the next person down to check we weren’t meant to go to the bottom. I waited patiently, perfecting my caving zen as various people struggled with the rebelay (my bad rigging? Their bad technique?) and finally as everyone was down I did some push ups and penguin danced myself warm for the push through to the main chamber.
It was a surprisingly long way, and the walls were disappointingly well graffitied. I played with breathing down passages to check which way the strong breeze went, and finally entered the main chamber, which was truly stunning. We were here past sunset, so the only light came from our powerful torches playing off the twin cascades that dropped a vast distance to the ground to form a mighty river. Quite overwhelmed by the sight, I stumbled and wandered around until I caught a glimpse of dark blue sky through the hole at the top. Rhys waved my over to a sheltered sand bank and I started making minestrone soup to complement our sandwiches - it was surreal to be cooking in the presence of such overwhelming power, but the soup was so warming and filling that I was happy that we’d stopped.
The way out was unremarkable, but tiring. My leg loop was the wrong length for the first pitch and I exhausted myself going up. Tanguy derigged at terrific speed, and we were soon on the surface (I think it was four hours down, two hours out - remarkable!) and walking down the Nature Trail back to Clapham. Tanguy went a little insane and started gibbering nonsense as we walked along the moonlit path - a literal lunatic? Back at the hut, a lovely gratin was waiting along with the others who’d been to Jingling that day.
A lot more people joined the tour today, which lead to two separate caving trips being organised. I was on the Gaping Ghyll trip with Alex, Jack, Rhys, Tanguy and Will.
After changing just outside a children’s playground. We took the long walk to the cave entrance, but the good weather meant the longest approach of the tour was quite pleasurable.
After me and Alex had learnt so much about rigging on our Simpson’s trip, we were scheduled to do some rigging this time. I rigged the first pitch, with very close supervision from Rhys at the top, but the rebelay halfway down left me rigging entirely by myself. Fortunately it was one knot, and we all survived.
Alex rigged the next few short pitches down, and after passing another caving group coming up from an exchange we hit the main pitch down to the bottom. Alex proceeded to get stuck on the rebelay due to the complete lack of available ledges to stand on. This lead to most of the group waiting around at the top having a long sing-a-long, with a particularly enthusiastic rendition of 12 days of christmas, despite only Tanguy knowing the full lyrics.
Though I was eager to get down, I wasn’t the fastest at descending, this being the first time I had done both a rebelay without a ledge or a deviation, and I was feeling particularly cold.
We warmed up fairly fast at the bottom due to the long low passage requiring a lot of crawling, which then lead straight to the absolutely awesome main chamber of Gaping ghyll. We had missed daylight hours, but even without sunlight coming through the ceiling the chamber was breathtaking. We stopped on a sandy bank near the waterfall to have soup and sandwiches.
The ascent out went smoothly, and the weather held up for the long walk back. After dinner, Rosanna, Alex and I were taught a lot about rigging knots by DW, and Tetley explained the handy emergency Italian Hitch and how to tie a Prusik knots.
Gaping Ghyll.! I had heard so much about it in the past year. I suppose I had catch up on my caving history and so prepared myself to set eyes on the famous chamber the great Martel had seen over a century ago. Apart from waiting around a bit, the journey down was pleasant in terms of pitch technicality, especially the doubly deviated large drop at the bottom. A few minutes of draughty crawl or stoop later, we were in the biggest cavern of the UK. Photos, sandwiches, soup. And off we were again, this time upwards bound. I derigged the cave, and we made it back to the NPC in good time. Note to self: bring more jaffa cakes next time !
Lost Johns: Rhys, Jack, Alex, Fiona, Chris, Tanguy, William, Dave KP, Rosanna, Katy, Tetley, DW
The group was split into three elite teams to tackle Lost John’s with two early parties rigging Centipede and Dome and a later party following down Centipede. I was in the early Centipede team with Alex, Jack and Rhys. I tried rigging for the first time on the first pitch which was slow but, as no-one died, successful. Rhys then took over the rigging and descending down Centipede’s huge drops was great fun. We then met the Dome team at the top of Candle & Shistol, which Alex rigged. My favourite part of the trip, and probably the week, then came as we conquered Battle-axe Traverse, a fairly tricky rift traverse over a significant drop, and Valhalla, a drop into an enormous cavern, complete with spectacular waterfall. To stagger the exit, Rhys and I turned back at the bottom of Valhalla as the rest of the group continued to Final. I ascended Valhalla with surprising lack of exhaustion and only really slowed when it came to getting back up Centipede, but still no large problems were had and I left the cave feeling we’d had very a successful trip.
The evening was spent with the group playing the pot and sling game and the squeeze machine game whilst getting completely wafted. The night of revelry ended with a drunken stroll around the surrounding area which I can barely remember.
The next day was a caving classic, Lost Johns’. Tetley had arrived, and took Chris on a rigging trip down Dome whilst Rhys and I took Rosanna and Alex to rig Centipede. Rosanna rigged the first short pitch very well, and we dropped down Centipede quickly, picking up the Dome crew who rudely commented on the speed of the rigging in Candle and Schistol. I’d never done Centipede before, having been down Monastery the last two times, but I can’t say I thought it was very interesting. Some complicated exchanges of cavers occurred at the head of the Battleaxe traverse, and we gained Tanguy and lost Tetley. I’d been desperate to try rigging Battleaxe, and it was a real hoot, swinging to the next bolt and clipping in whilst wedging my knees into the wall above the long drop into oblivion. I was sweating profusely as Alex kept pace behind me, but the traverse was not as long as I’d remembered and we were soon at the beautiful y-hang down into Valhalla.
There’s nothing quite like going first on a long drop, and fortunately we had just enough rope, having rigged Battleaxe and Valhalla with just one. At the bottom I waited for the others, and we set off to Final pitch and the main streamway. This was a good little bimble, and at a nasty looking duck upstream we stopped, took a photo and then exited, Tanguy derigging at his usual ridiculous speed.
Despite careful negotiation, the Centipede derigging team (Chris and Will) declined to take a rope bag from us, and informed us of this decision by promptly buggering off, leaving us with a bag each to carry out up Dome. This proved a little tough for Alex and I, and Tanguy was always close behind despite stopping to rerig Battle Axe for what I can only assume was shits and giggles. I sang every song I could think of waiting for him to rejoin us, and then we were off up again. On the surface we strobed the van for a response - Rhys had been waiting two hours, the Centipede team around an hour. Hey-ho. Back to the NPC for sweet potato stew, undercooked by yours truly due to a lack of patience.
On Sunday, we decided to go down Lost Johns, I was quite excited about seeing the other non-Monastery parts of Lost Johns, having gone both up and down it on Yorkshire II. It was also a chance for me to do some more rigging after being taught a lot last evening. I rigged roughly half the pitches down Dome, with Tetley rigging the rest. Though despite Tetley’s recommendation, I declined to test out the effectiveness of the Italian Hitch on the first pitch, and used my descender instead.
We caught up with the Centipede group just after Dome Junction, and proceeded to Battle Axe where we lost DKP and Tetley and gained a Tanguy. I found the actual traverse quite tricky, opting to rely on the traverse line as a last resort, only to then discover I was making it needlessly hard for myself after seeing Will swinging around on his cow’s tails.
After the impressive Valhalla, we made it down Final and to the streamway. On a whim we headed upstream for a short walk, this being ended when we reached a wet crawl, no of us wanted to head through that, so we posed for some pictures and headed back out. Valhalla was an exhausting pitch to climb up, and being treated with Battle Axe straight afterwards meant the rest of the exit was much easier in comparison. Will and I headed out and Will derigged Centipede, which meant I had now been through each route of Lost Johns.
Will and I made it back to the minibus about an hour after Rhys and Rosanna, and proceeded to wait for another hour for the Dome group, which it later transpired was due to Tanguy having rerigging Battle Axe after derigging at top speed only to discover that the rope had got stuck somewhere near Valhalla.
That evening we purchased more wine, and this convinced us to play some games, such as Pot and Sling and the can game. The squeeze board was also brought out, which lead to a couple of choice bruises on yours truly, and great facial expressions from all involved.
This time, we were aiming for a Lost Johns’ epic. I stayed behind with DW to show Katy how to use the SRT gear and, shortly after 1pm, we were walking across the fell to Lost Johns’ entrance. We entered the cave with high spirits, there was no hurry and bimbled all the way to the first pitch (Hammer). There, Katy descended superbly and off we went to Mud pitch. As she reached the bottom of that somewhat longer drop, we paused and unanimously decided that she give a go at ascending, to gauge the strength she would need to space, if she wished to continue down Centipede.
It all went smoothly, and before you could say ‘Rop…’ Katy was at the bottom of the hundred foot drop. Nice! We meandered to the top of Candle and Shistol, at which point, I recced further down to see what the ‘first and second waves’ were plotting to do next. I met Tetley and Dkp on their way out, exchanged a few words, and raced to the start of Battleaxe traverse. There I summoned Rhys to tell him my plan, his face lit up as he understood he’d be leaving the easy way without so much as lifting his little finger.
I on the other hand had a brilliant scheme to derig the whole way out, via Dome. I crossed the traverse swiftly, and adjusted the Y-hang for ease of transferring one’s anchor points to the traverse line on the ascent. This mainly included tightening the wings of the alpine butterfly to bring the central knot a tad higher. It turned out I corrected Rhys’s awful attempt at adjusting Jack’s rigging. Jack’s was, I am told, perfect. That done, I let myself drop into Valhalla, then down the final pitch, after seeing off Rosanna on her ascent, and reached Groundsheet junction. Hearing the faint sound of voices, I turned upstream and caught up with the rest of the troop. Photos, water, a breather, and off we are, up and up and up towards the surface.
I seem to love scheming against my own self, readily thwarting my own plans of an easy trip, and so ended up derigging the final pitch, then waiting a little at the bottom of Valhalla. Getting better at rope walking I was up Valhalla quicker than expected, and started to derig battle axe. Upon arriving at the last bolt, I pulled on the traverse rope to pack it. And pulled, and pulled again. Damn ! I rerigged one bolt, to see if I could unjam the rope from there. No result. Cursing, I rerigged another. Now I’ll have a better angle surely… ten bolts later, the rope finally comes free. Well, that had buggered the schemer in me !
It was then a slow progress to the surface, but my troubles were not over. As I hauled the last rope up the last pitch, my SRT bag snapped off my harness and landed six metres below in the muddy pool. Jack, Alex and I finally emerged in the clear cold night, close to exhaustion, but elated nonetheless.
Bull Pot: Alex, Chris, Tanguy, Rosanna, Katy
Brown Hill: Rhys, Jack
Jack and Rhys decided they would put themselves through the horrific-sounding Brown Hill cave whilst Tanguy led the more sensible of us down Bull Pot. On leaving the van, Jack found he had forgotten his kneepads and with Brown Hill being a rather more knee-heavy cave than Bull he asked for donations from our group. I complied and was rewarded with Jack’s creativity in sourcing replacement pads which consisted of pieces of chopped up roll mat duct taped to my oversuit decorated with a smiley face on my right knee and ‘I <3 CAVE’ (‘caves’ wouldn’t fit) on my left. With me feeling contentedly stylish the group split and we attempted to make our way to Bull Pot, which we found after about an hour of roaming the hillside. The entrance to the cave was a drop straight into an open shaft which unfortunately put Katy off so she turned back to wait in the bus. After this, Tanguy, Chris, Alex and I continued into the cave which was fairly impressive and Alex and Chris got to do quite a lot of the rigging. Wanting to keep to a turnaround time we turned back before the final pitch and did a tiny exchange at a point where the route split – I went down the more conventional route Chris had rigged and went up through the aptly-named ‘Slot’ which Alex had rigged. We found the others waiting for us back at the bus, Jack and Rhys having conquered Brown Hill and Katy having survived the freezing wait.
Back at the NPC, Alex insisted that table traversing would be a good idea. With Alex, Rhys and Tanguy having made successful attempts, the group gradually left for bed, leaving Alex, Katy and I downstairs. My initial attempts had consisted of pathetically falling off the edge of the table so the rest of the evening was spent with Alex patiently conterweighting the table as I spent every ounce of my remaining energy repeatedly falling off the table with stubborn determination and Katy equally stubbornly refusing to get on the table. After a good couple of hours and a lot of bruises I managed to get to the underside of the table which I deemed enough of an achievement to go to bed.
Rhys had been talking all evening about going back to Brown Hill, a terrifying cave in Not for the Faint Hearted that he’d been to on his first winter tour. His principle memories seem to be crying with exhaustion and terror on the way out (good work, Jarv!). He was drunkenly trying to recruit people for a trip there whilst Tanguy was trying to organise one to Rowten and I was proposing King. In the end, I decided Brown Hill sounded challenging enough, and Tanguy went for Bullpot so that the SRT for our newest caver, Katy, was feasible.
At Kingsdale I realised I’d forgotten my knee pads, which could be quite useful for a crawling trip. Everyone became strangely deaf as I repeatedly pleaded for someone to lend me theirs, until Rosanna graciously agreed. It turns out she had Oli’s knee pads, so was it really so bad for me to steal them off her? Yes, probably. I decided to show my ingenuity by fashioning Rosanna kneepads out of cut up roll mat and gaffer tape. This was not hugely successful, apparently, but it was fun to try. Off up to East Kingsdale went Rhys and I, watching the slow and meandering progress of Tanguy’s team trying to find Bullpot as we tried to find Brown Hill. Eventually we spotted a wide plastic pipe sticking up in a small shakehole with a wooden lid on the top.
We quickly rigged a handline down and Rhys dropped into a really nasty entrance squeeze, kindly pulling my tackle sack with him. We’d been unable to find thin rope for the 80 m section, so we had 10.5 mm in the bags, which was really quite unpleasant. The entrance crawl is meandering and very tight, so you have to crawl on your side, changing which hip is down depending on the curvature, and pushing the tackle sack ahead. Despite it being only 14 m, I think it took 30 minutes to get through. We debated about whether the next bit was a rift traverse or a crawl - Rhys tried out the options and decide the rift traverse was the least bad, but it was pretty unpleasant., just wide enough to lose a tackle sack in. Rhys was giggling a little hysterically rigging the first pitch, which was tight and unpleasant and already rigged with the most awful looking brown 8 mm divers rope (thanks, Tony Seddon). We apparently rigged two pitches in one for a canyoning style drop off - the rope ended a metre above the ground, making it easy to get the descender off by just sitting down.
The next crawl was lovely in comparison, through to a high aven with a nice waterfall. After this was a rift traverse with a 3 m fre climb down to another rift traverse. Reading the directions off a photograph on my camera proved misleading, and we climbed a really slippery sloping traverse to the roof only to find we were meant to go straight on instead of up. The next section was a nasty crawl traverse, though sensing my weakness Rhys kindly took the fullest rope bag. I practised crawl traversing by falling forwards onto my hands and swinging my legs through and under me, rinse and repeat. Finally we got to the pitch head, which had a short traverse round a corner to a tight and awkward y-hand. Tony’s 8mm rope was much in evidence, as were many encrusted and rusted krabs. Rhys rigged quickly, and whooped at the long drop. I followed, my new descender so full of friction that I had to pull rope through it with both hands to get anywhere at the top. By the bottom it was steaming alarmingly, and I held it away from my oversuit for 30 seconds to let it cool down.
Rhys had rigged the next long drop from a rift traverse. This one was rather wet, and the deviation didn’t seem to make much difference, dragging you directly into the spray the was launched when the waterfall hit a well angled slab. At the bottom I was quick to scurry into the beautifully scalloped streamway. Edging down it we got to the final pitch, a short traverse and a y-hang to a chamber with a foam filled terminal sump. We sat, ate some chocolate bars, relieved ourselves and them began the ascent.
The first few pitches weren’t too bad - I was exhausted, but my technique was solid and I just kept going. I waited for Rhys at the top of the long drop, slightly soaked from the bad deviation, as he packed the 80 m of rope away. I kept very quiet about taking that bag from him, and he didn’t say anything either, so it was off back through the crawl traverse, falling and swinging as I went. At the end, I graciously took the heavier bag from Rhys, before we filled our water bottle at the Aven for the last nice crawl to the first pitch. Here we sat for a while, contemplating the awful crawl to come. I searched for a hidden magical door that would give an easy exit, and we chewed the increasingly tasteless chocolate bars for energy.
Finally I could wait no longer, and I had to climb up. The massive rub point on this pitch made us appreciate the thick rope now, though the rebelay was painfully tight and the pitch head no better. I struggled to get the tackle sack out of the rift for some time as Rhys crept up behind me. At last I was free and I went back along the narrow rift traverse to a stopping point where I removed all my SRT gear and packed it in the SRT bag. Rhys was making odd noises at the pitch head, so I sidled through the rift at ground level to collect the tackle sack from him so he could quickly get through and get his SRT gear off.
The final crawl was far from pleasant, but without SRT gear it was a lot better. The pebble strewn floor made pushing the tackle sack tough, and it frequently fell back on my head as I tried to shove it over a rock. I could feel the cold air though, and that gave me the strength to push through some tight spots. At the final handline I realised that the metre wide smooth plastic pipe was just the wrong width for my legs, and in a burst of desperate strength I hauled myself 3 m up the rope with my arms, punched the wooden lid off with my head and flopped out onto the cold frozen fell, the full moon perfectly lighting the scene. I hauled up my tackle sack and Rhys exited. On the way down we could see lights on the other side of the dale, and we got back to the van about 30 minutes before the Bullpot team. Dinner was some delicious cabbage and bacon concoction of Tanguy’s with a last minute impromptu spinach gratin. Caving games were played (Rhys and I somehow lost the pot and sling game to Alex and Chris, which I was gutted by), skin was removed by the squeeze machine and a lot of half price port from the Coop was consumed.
Winter Tour had been far too pleasant. The weather was generally excellent (i.e. not always pissing it down), the trips relatively easy (lots of rigging practice), and the van had yet to break down. I decided I was in the mood for grovelling and by using Jedi mind tricks convinced Jack to join me in a trip down Brown Hill. Tanguy, the enabling bastard, agreed to lead a trip down Bull for everyone else.
I had done Brown Hill once before, on my first winter tour. My memories of it were mostly of horrified frustration and grim crawling and nearly crying with exhaustion on the way out. I was keen to pit myself against younger me, to see if I could handle it better this time.
We arrived in Kingsdale to find the stream thankfully low and changed into our gear. Jack forgot his knee pads, which are pretty vital in Brown Hill, so he stole some off Rosanna and then mocked her by constructing a pathetic replacement out of duct tape, carry matt and sinister giggling that he called knee pads. With our sabotage to Tanguy’s part complete we set off, tramping across the beck and up East Kingsdale. Our guide consisted of a photo on Jack’s waterproof camera of my phone displaying a scanned in copy of NFTFH. The location was mostly true to the description apart from Mr Cooper apparently having a different idea to us of what “20m from the fence” means (we found it right next to the fence).
Jack graciously allowed me to go first. I slipped down the 3m of plastic drum that keep the entrance open. Once inside the cave immediately closed down (and that’s from a ~50cm diameter oil drum) and you must wiggle into a small rift, feet first and therefore blind. Juggling my tackle sack onto my face I wormed onwards, calling Jack after me and assuring him that the cave was lovely. Further on, and round a corner that I definitely did facing the wrong way, I popped out into a chamber. Jack caught up, and with nary a word of apprehension we set off into the next tight rift.
This one proved to be much longer, and tighter. The floor was mostly pebbles, relatively comfortable as pebbles go but pebbles nonetheless, and the rift tight enough that you had to crawl on your side picking your orientation carefully to negotiate the tight bends. Being relatively lean cavers Jack and I had kept our SRT kits on. The scrapes of metal on rock, the thump of tackle sacks being shoved roughly forward, and the occasional muttered obscenity were the backing track to our troubles. Eventually we are able to stand, through a process of elimination decided that we had to traverse at mid-level in the rift. I came to some bolts, and some terrifying looking 8mm rope. I rigged our 10.5mm rope. Dropping down was incredibly relieving, as the cave immediately opens out and stays at reasonable dimensions for the rest of the way down.
Using a dodgy in-situ deviation I managed to somehow skip rigging Mon Petit Pitch (though not recommended as this does create a rub point).
Beyond here the cave is quite pretty and pleasant. We passed a high waterfall aven. There is a moderately arduous crawl traverse before Puit-Ians-Plant (the big pitch) which I didn’t find too troublesome on the way in. Most of the time its possible to wedge the bag and yourself comfortably. Jack found it a bit tougher (I think because his trip the day before had been a fair bit harder than mine) but we were soon at the pitch head. The trip is worth it entirely for this pitch. Impressively large, with a beautiful hang down to a ledge. The second hang is entertaining as the water hits a ledge half way down and completely covers the bottom half with spray, which certainly expedites descending/ascending.
At the bottom, some classic Yorkshire streamway leads to the final little pitch and the sump. The combination of foam covered walls, dark rock, and lack of dry space in the final chamber gives it quite an oppressive air. Jack headed up first and I did the derig. This was fairly fast and pleasant and apart from some impressive knots spontaneously appearing between our rope and the diver’s 8mm there were no problems.
The crawl traverse was significantly harder on the way out and several times I had to mentally remind myself not to get frustrated. Slowly and steadily though we made progress and were soon at the ominous “entrance” pitch leading to the grim crawls. Again I derigged. This proved quite hard as there are no real footholds and no space to turn round. I had to jam myself in with my knees and at one point took several minutes to find a way to turn my head. Eventually I resorted to clipping my bag to the divers traverse line so that it would be high enough for me to pack.
Jack hung back to help me with the bag and we stood for quite some time in the one place where there was room to turn. We took off our SRT kits this time (highly recommended) and psyched ourselves up before diving to the ground and squirming once again. With a tackle bag each and our SRT kits jammed into our SRT bags there was a choice of which bag to push in front of the other. Jack and I both tried chucking the SRT back as far as we could and then pushing the tackle sack and were both equally horrified to find that the tackle sack just gets hopelessly wedged on the SRT bag. Luckily we managed to retrieve our SRT bags and kept them sensibly close to us.
I was considerably happier on the way out than the way in. Knowing that there is an end to the crawl is quite a motivator. Back at the entrance barrels, Jack practically leapt out, despite the lack of footholds. I ended up tying myself a little ladder of alpine butterflies in the handline. On the way back down we wondered if Tanguy was okay. Our trip had only taken 4 and a half hours but we expected Tanguy to be pretty quick too. Occasional flashes of light from across the valley and down by the otherwise dark van were more confusing than reassuring.
At the van we found Katy, slowly becoming hypothermic, apparently having been intimidated by Bulls open air entrance pitch. Once in the van, Jack and I sat fully geared up, me revving the engine to get the heaters going, until the twinkle of 4 lights in the distance indicated that all was well.
While Jack and Rhys decided they had had enough fun for this Tour, and wanted to go to Brown Hill, Tanguy, Alex, Rosanna, Katy and I headed to Bull Pot for a nice relaxing SRT trip, which rounded of the caving for the Tour for Tanguy, Alex and Me.
Though the actual distance from the road to the cave wasn’t a considerable distance, we seemingly subconsciously decided as a group that after the short walk to Lost Johns the day before we could do with a decent trek and proceeded to spiral around the entrance aimlessly for around an hour before we spotted the gaping limestone shaft. Unfortunately, the looming entrance scared off Katy from wanting to enter, so she decided to head back to the minibus.
After the second pitch, the cave had a nice feature of parallel pitches, which meant both me and Alex could practice our rigging. Alex rigged the Slot pitch, while I rigged down the drier more open route. After excitedly descending the whole pitch, I was informed by Tanguy there was a deviation to find. Spotting a bolt more than halfway up the pitch I proceeded to ascend and swing across, only to then discover this wasn’t the right bolt, which was actually based on the original ledge I had descended to. Swapping back over to my descender, and feeling slightly foolish I rigged down to the bottom, and met up with Tanguy and Alex, who had made it down the Slot pitch.
Alex rigged the next traverse and pitch, and after we all made it to the bottom, we decided to head back out due to the time. I volunteered to derig the bottom pitch and Slot, as I hadn’t derigged anything before. While unclipping the fairly serious deviations led to some fantastic swinging, I quickly discovered the derigging was a lot harder work than rigging, but it was still exciting to be the last one out of the pitches.
Getting out of the cave, the strobing from the minibus told us that Jack and Rhys had managed to get back before us. We really had spent a long time finding the cave.
This was to be our last SRT trip, so I’d wanted to go back to Rowten, as a fine SRT practice for our newer members. It was however a little too technical for our newest. After some Tetley persuasion, I settled on Bull Pot, with the opportunity to let Alex and Chris rig (we packed rope for the two different routes). Rhys and Jack settled for an epic so we wished them good luck !
We set off from the road, quickly found the gate, and the vague path up to the first bank, and the green path there. Having gone too much to the South, we did not spot the sinking stream immediately, and went looking in the adjacent field to the North, following the green lane. We found a major stream there, and followed it find a sink. Instead we found Yordas wood, and so resolved to spread out on the hill and journey south again, crossed a wall, spread out again, found a smaller stream, leading to a little limestone pavement. There was the Bull Pot open shaft!
I rigged the first pitch, then went looking for the second, emerged too low at the pitch head, identified the traverse, rigged it, went back to the bottom of the first pitch, posed for a photo, traversed again, rigged the second pitch, waited.
I gave Chris the ropes to rig the Wet Gully route, and Rosanna went with him, while I waited for Alex to rig the Slot route. He went down the hilarious looking little crack in the floor, but the rope was too short, so I rigged another Y-hang as he ascended with a new rope, went down, and he followed after. There is rebelay halfway down, and then a straight drop to the bottom. Before I reached the bottom, I heard Chris asking for his way on, from where I was, I could clearly see a deviation, but Chris lacked either a carabiner or a sling, I can’t recall which. So I swung towards him, and he swung towards me. We met halfway, exchanged a few words of greeting, and the appropriate gear. Minutes later, we were all four (Katy had left at the deep chasm that is the first open shaft) at the bottom.
I gave Alex loads of maillons, and rope, slings, krabs to rig the fourth pitch. It started with a traverse that is a sibling to Battleaxe, which Alex rigged confidently, and then opened up into another crazy, doubly deviated pitch. Let it suffice to say that I was quite entertained.
Chris derigged that one, and then the Slot Route, while Alex derigged Wet Gully. Rosanna quickly followed him up and where the two routes join, Chris and I changed places, I derigged the second and first pitches under the moonlight.
Content with this last trip, we ambled back to the bus, under the strobes of those already there.
Notts 2: Rosanna, Katy, DW
Rescue Training: Rhys, Jack, Alex, Fiona, Chris, Tanguy, Tony Seddon
I woke up under the impression I would be taking part in the rescue training taking place that day so when told that I wasn’t and that DW would be running a trip for me and Katy I instantly regretted the table traversing antics of the previous night. However, we decided to go for an easy cave, Notts II, so this didn’t prove too much of a problem. Notts II is a beautiful streamway which has been linked to the surface by a man-made shaft. This makes for an interesting entrance as you enter through a manhole and proceed by climbing down the scaffolding and ladders scattered down the shaft. After some initial trepidation, Katy descended on a lifeline rigged by DW and I followed on behind. At the streamway we explored both upstream and downstream with both directions having some spectacular formations and chances to get soaked. On returning to the NPC we had another excellent dinner and spent the evening consuming the last of the alcohol. It proved to be a great end to a completely fantastic trip and I returned to London thoroughly wishing I was still underground.
Our final day was cave rescue training with Tony Seddon. I’d been really looking forward to this, and it was excellent. Tony took us to Ingleborough Hall where they have a classroom with anchors and an outdoor SRT tower to practice. We learnt how to built locking pulleys out of SRT equipment we carry, how to raise someone up a rope and then lower them, how to rescue someone stuck on their rope, and how to cut a rope to lower people to the ground if raising them is too dangerous. I feel a lot better about being able to get someone out of a cave if I need to now, though I hope we won’t need these skills any time soon!
On my last day of the Tour we headed off to Ingleborough Hall to learn cave rescue techniques. We practiced some pulley jammer construction and hauling someone up a pitch in the classroom with some slings hung round a handy I beam before heading out to their tower to practice in a more spacious environment. We also learned how to lower someone down a pitch, with all of us perhaps a little to eager to cut the rope our friends were hanging on.
It is definitely reassuring to know some cave rescue techniques, and was interesting to learn what more can be done with the equipment that we normally carry into the cave.